Cable companies are considering moving from a flat-fee Internet service model -- where every user pays the same price for Internet access, regardless of how much time they spend online -- to one where customers would pay according to how much data they use, and face fines if they exceed their limits. It's an industry shift that would let casual, occasional Internet users pay at a different rate from those who do a lot of streaming and downloading, but it also has some customers worried about the possibility of punishing costs.
We asked HuffPost readers how the shift to so-called "metered billing" would affect their lives. Most of the people who wrote to us said they're not fans of the idea. Below, you can read a selection of emails that touch on everything from the challenges facing rural Internet users to the larger role the Web plays in our lives -- as well as some things that HuffPost itself could be doing better.
Would metered billing affect your internet use? Send us a note at email@example.com. Be sure to let us know what town and state you live in.
Petra Challus of Santa Rosa, Calif. wrote in to remind us that it's becoming harder and harder to conduct the basic business of daily life without going online.
Any type of metered billing would affect my use of the Internet. Nearly every company, financial institution, or governmental agency we deal with requires use of Web sites, and thus we're being forced to communicate via the Web and endure the expense while [cable companies are] making money hand over fist.
A reader from Minneapolis offered a breakdown of where her online video use happens, and where she'd have to cut back.
I don't own a television. I get all of my video news/information/entertainment online. I recently decided to treat myself to an online Netflix subscription and am spending as much as (and, frankly, a little more than) I can afford right now. Between phone and Internet, there isn't room in my monthly budget beyond the approximately $150 I currently shell out. So, yes, my viewing habits would change. I'd make a movie-date night with myself and perhaps, rent something from iTunes... or maybe get a Redbox video (but I find that to be an extra step I'm not too jazzed about taking). I'd want to make sure I get to watch Rachel Maddow, The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, POTUS speeches and the like. If that meant running up the meter so movies, YouTube etc. became billable services... well... I'd have to stop watching those movies.
That would suck.
A reader from Tarrytown, N.Y. argued that capping Internet service could prevent the next Web 2.0 breakthrough from happening.
This change would not only affect how we stream movies. An open Internet has been one of the great drivers of our economy. If this is to continue, and if we, as a nation, are to continue to be leaders of new technology and the global economy, we must not place limits on Internet use.
And finally, Chris Snyder, a reader from rural south-central Michigan, gave us a description of life on the other side of the digital divide:
I already have metered Internet, since at my rural location, the only Internet options are dial-up and satellite connections. There is no cable, no DNS, no T-1 lines, no glass fibers. We get 250MB bandwidth a day in our household, to be shared by two people with computers. This means that even one person can't complete updates on a single computer before the entire day's bandwidth is used up, much less stream videos. We don't even watch YouTube or HuffPost news videos, and I'm very annoyed when I navigate to one of your webpages and a video starts streaming to me, using up my precious bandwidth without even asking my permission first. Can't you mark such links with some sort of instant streaming symbol so I can tell to avoid them?
It's not just HuffPost -- much of the Internet is moving toward video content for everything, even simple messages that could just as well be delivered in text format. Often, clicking a link starts instantaneous video streaming with no asking of permission, so I have to back out of a page right away, even if there was text there that I wanted to read.
Many times websites and e-mails neglect to provide their content in text format, too, despite the fact that software now exists that can make rough transcripts automatically. This is a problem not only for people with low bandwidth, but also for people who have disabilities. A deaf person gets nothing from a video or audio recording of a person talking, after all, unless they are really good at reading tiny lips on a screen.
But I am not writing [to voice] complaints about what it is like to live with an Internet quota. Little as it is, it is adequate. What really has me worried is that people are lobbying to create legislation that would prohibit ALL Internet providers from using the fee-per-unit-bandwidth model of contract. If that is enforced on satellite service providers, the cost for having ANY Internet connection at my home would literally go through the roof, since the providers would have to quadruple the number of satellites they have in orbit to be able to provide even their current customers with unlimited bandwidth. I would be unable to afford ANY Internet connection, which already is costing me $60/month, with no TV service included, unlike what the cable users get. I beg all the Internet addicts out there -- if you want a law that requires unlimited Internet access, PLEASE make an exception for satellite service, which has never operated on that model and can't afford to. Those of us forced to use it can't just switch to cable if you price it out of our range, after all.
Some letters have been edited for length and clarity.